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Some Tourists Visit Athens Early to Beat Olympic Crowds - 2004-08-07

The anticipated onslaught of athletes, coaches, sports fans, and media has yet to appear in Greece for the Olympics games. But some visitors have purposely come early to beat the crowds.

In the lull before the expected storm of tourists coming for the Olympic games, the main tourist district of Athens is relatively quiet. This is what Willard Saunders from the United States hoped for when he planned a visit to Athens prior to the Olympics.

"Exactly. Everything we wanted to see. We thought the city would be in great shape at this time and it absolutely is," he said. " So yeah, it's been a good experience for us."

In the main city square, Romanian Bishop Erenaos has recently arrived in Greece but not for the Olympics.

"Oh, no, just to make a pilgrimage throughout the country, to visit churches, monasteries, holy relics, icons," he explained.

At one of the many Greek Orthodox churches that dot the cityscape of Athens, Rebecca Leek, a student at the Oxford University in England, is also on a pilgrimage of sorts.

"I've come this week because the flights were cheaper but I study ancient Greek philosophy and things at Oxford," she said.

At the National Archeological Museum, visitors who are not planning on staying for the Olympic, can still see actual relics from the ancient games. There are original olympic medals and vases which sporting competitions that date back to 460 B.C. Rosario Brindis from Mexico City is in Athens, winding up her visit to Greece.

"It's a nice place to come visit," she said. "I think people make an effort to speak English to tourists and I think due to the Olympic games the infrastructure is coming along but is lacks a lot of services and stuff."

Rosario Brindis is referring in part to the ongoing noise and disruptions visitors must endure as workers rush to finish construction projects for the Olympics. At the Acropolis her concerns are not shared by Omari and Kavita Bouknight from the United States. They are here in Greece on their honeymoon and do plan to stay for the Olympics.

"It seems really nice, like a mixture of a lot of different European cities that we've been to," Omari said. "A little bit of Spain, a little bit of Italy and a little bit of Belgium, all combined into one."

"And it actually exceeded our expectations," added Kavita. "We heard that this was kind of a dirty, congested city - and it far exceeded our expectations. It's really nice."

For the most part these early visitors are getting what they wanted, a city being cleaned up for the Olympics but without the crowds.